When Brett Anderson awarded four beans to Le Meritage in his October 2009 review, Chef Michael Farrell probably thought that his fine dining establishment in the Maison Dupuy would be one of the few hotel restaurants that bucked the downward trend. The immediate response from local diners was correspondingly positive; it seems that I could not go a week without someone relating a glowing review about a recent dinner there. But as time passed, every time that I heard someone mention Le Meritage it was usually in this context: "Yeah, Le Meritage is a good idea, unless we can find a table somewhere better in the Quarter." Fast forward a little more than three years, and Chef Farrell is now due to depart from the restaurant for an extended "sabbatical" in the Cayman Islands.
|Clockwise from top left: lamb t-bone with sweet potato; duck two ways and sweetbread salad frisee; fall beet risotto; braised beef short rib with gremolata.|
Of course, my first full dining experience at Le Meritage was just a month before the chef announced his departure. The restaurant was surprisingly empty for theatre week at Mahalia Jackson a few blocks away. For the first hour of our meal, the only other person in the dining room was the John Mayer doppelganger working his solo set and serenading us with Ray LaMontagne’s "Trouble," which I forced The Folk Singer to dance to at our reception. It was a magical night - the wedding, that is.
Dinner at Le Meritage was a good time as well. In terms of ambience, the restaurant has touches of both universal and French Quarter elegance. Diners sit in wide club chairs at unadorned, dark wood tables while gazing out windows on opposite sides of the dining room looking out upon Burgundy and the courtyard of the hotel. A twisting path of track lighting winds around the dimly lit dining room.
The menu is organized by wine pairing, with wine flights matched with a group of courses based on the flavor profiles of both. In addition, all wines are available by the half and full pour, and each dish is offered in both appetizer and entrée portions. I started with miniature medallions of sautéed sweetbreads on a pile of frisée salad dressed with ponzu, a curious twist on the classic citrus sauce usually served with the glands, which in this case were a bit more chewy than desired. Duck two ways brought thin slices of duck breast and nubs of seared foie gras matched with a fig compote; the classic combination of duck and sweet sauce, which I sometimes feel is about as dated as the Hans and Franz radio spots from French Riviera Spa. A lamb t-bone was grilled to a fatty, succulent rosy red and paired with a terribly boring wedge of roasted sweet potato. For dessert, an individual key lime goat cheese cake tasted stale and from the box, and a dome of chocolate hazelnut mousse topped a dense (if a bit dry) brownie/cookie base. The best part of the meal was the fantastic $82 premier cru burgundy which I was afraid had a "1" missing from the price on the menu, until I received the bill and thankfully breathed a sign of relief.
As we waited for the valet to bring around the car, I began mentally writing up a review in my head:
"Generic fine dining setting in the Quarter. Obvious emphasis on wine. Everything on the menu you have seen before, with a few twists here and there. A few missteps, and no dish really grabbed your attention. All in all, I would definitely go back again ... if I couldn't find a better table somewhere else."